So I’m about to drop the little dude off at daycare last week when I notice somebody eyeing me from down the hall. Panicked by the thought of non-virtual communication, I grasp around in my pocket for a weapon but alas, find only chapstick and two nickels. The corridor narrows and dims cinematically; I steel myself for the inevitable. Then the guy sidles over, and with a big smile, waits for the recognition to wash over me.
Turns out he was an old friend -- like, in-attendance-at-my-Bar-Mitzvah-old. Upon seeing my name on the sign-out list a few days earlier -- he also has a kid at the school -- he put one and one together and set about engineering a meeting. I’m glad he did: the ensuing exchange was warm and spirited, and didn’t trigger the usual “wherever you are, please come and free me from the shackles of this conversation, Batman” instinct that kicks in when confronted with people I haven’t seen in a while. At its conclusion, we exchanged contact info and headed off to our cars. But before driving off, he pulled back up to me, rolled down the window and yelled: “Dude, I’m listening to the Kinks! You turned me on to them in the sixth grade! Thanks for that, man!”
This made me feel way better about my long-ago self than it should’ve. Also, it scientifically validated what I’ve been saying all these years: that I have always been one of the preeminent cultural tastemakers of this or any other generation (also, that Give the People What They Want is ripe for critical reconsideration). Still aglow with the fiery blush of credibility reaffirmed, I feel emboldened to hand out this column’s first-ever award. Without further ado, then, the first annual Video Critique Brand-Video-Making Brand of the Year Sponsored by Johnny and Hanges “All the Way” Jersey-Style Texas Wieners goes to Saturday Night Live.
SNL gets the nod on the strength of the extended cuts of its weekly promos served up as a web exclusive for the last year or two. In the clips, which post every Wednesday during first-run weeks, the show’s upcoming host and a cast member riff, joust, tease, pratfall and generally make genial sillyheads of themselves in the interest of stirring enthusiasm for the live-from-New-York mirth that lies ahead.
While most of the videos are shot in the empty SNL studio, the show has introduced some variety in recent weeks -- placing Chris Rock in the middle of Rockefeller Plaza, for example, or Cameron Diaz in a conference room high above the city. So instead of the straightforward I’m-the-host-and-this-is-the-musical-guest quickie burst of years past, we get Amy Adams fending off holiday-fueled marriage proposals, Jim Carrey rubber-facing his way through non-impressions and Bruno Mars gifting us with promotional songcraft. Better, each clip delivers multiple takes, which is wonderfully true to the why-self-edit-unless-you-have-to? ethos of circa-late-2014 web promotion.
Much of what makes the SNL previews so illuminating and brand-redefining -- apologies for sounding like a whiteboard-inscribing consultant for a second there -- is unrepeatable. Other brands don’t have ready access to A-list talent, nor do they have a small army of on-call production minions. But I’d argue that certain aspects of the clips should serve as a model for marketers (or properties, or organizations, or whatever) that want to keep themselves fresh and elastic in the minds of customers/viewers/donors/etc.
The first is their metronomic regularity. If there’s a new SNL scheduled for Saturday, there will be content and it will arrive on Wednesday. Meeting expectations is underrated in this everything-on-demand-always-now-now-now era. The second is the way they actually don’t provide any kind of real preview at all. The show, after all, isn’t likely to feature too many improvised host/cast member schmoozes. What the videos do, then, is convey a sensibility, a 180-second sampling of what may, or may not, lie ahead. Finally, the SNL clips are -- what’s the word I’m searching for here? -- good. They’re arch and non-linear; they’re funny in a way that sometimes the show isn’t, far more “Between Two Ferns” than “The Big Bang Theory.”
Granted, it’s no easy task for Lowe’s or Windex or Entenmann’s to forge an identity in this manner, but it’s not like other brands haven’t pulled it off (Axe and Oscar Mayer are two that come to mind). Nothing on the web -- much less brand content on the web -- can ever be appointment viewing in the way that, well, SNL, once was. That doesn’t mean brands shouldn’t try.
The irony here is that I don’t watch SNL anymore, because I share a residence with two human alarm clocks that sound every morning at 5:25 a.m. If I’m awake on Saturday at 11:35 p.m., it’s not by choice. Thus, the SNL previews are a revelation to me, suggesting that the show won’t willingly cede control over the mainstream comedy agenda to Comedy Central and Adult Swim anytime soon. I love the attitude and everything that comes with it. There’s your online brand-video maker of the year, kids.